Minn-stf Policy on Web Display of Documents with Ambiguous Copyright

Matthew Strait, Archivist

5 November 2016

The Policy

This policy, adopted by the Minn-stf board on 5 November 2016, covers Minnstf publications, or individual contributions to them, for which the following statements are all true:

To put it another way, these are works for which it seems safe, based on our experience (see below), to assume that we would receive permission to post them on the web if we managed to make contact.

In these cases, we will post the work on the web with the statement "© Jane Contributer, all rights reserved". This, in effect, makes the assumption that when someone said "Sure, you can put my work in that program book", they did not mean to restrict it to a single printing or a particular medium (paper), but conservatively assumes that they did mean to retain copyright and are not allowing it to be released under any sort of permissive license such as Creative Commons.

Further, we will not sell any reprints of these works at a net profit.

In the unlikely case case that we post something under this policy and the copyright holder eventually finds it and objects, we will naturally take it down (or update the copyright statement, or down-res the art, or whatever they want).

The History

(This section and what follows are all commentary and not policy.)

Around 2008, I started on a project to put old Minicon publications up on the web. Since then, I've expanded the project to cover all Minn-stf publications.

The board at the time asked that I ask each copyright holder for permission to put their submissions on the web, under the conservative assumption that, unless otherwise stated, when people allow their works to be included in a print publication the permission is only for the paper version and not a subsequent electronic posting.

I didn't appreciate at the time what a huge undertaking this was. Older program books tend to have contributions by more people than newer ones, sometimes dozens in a single book. In Minicon program books alone, there are over 200 (potential) copyright holders. I have not yet attempted a complete survey of the copyright holders for Minicon progress reports, pocket programs, fallcon materials, Rune, etc.

The Experience

So far I have gotten copyright answers from 122 people. All but two gave us permission in some form or another (98.4% success). To illustrate the rationale behind this policy, I've summarized the categories of responses:

The responses can be further subdivided, but I don't think the details are relevant for this policy. For full details, see Copyright answers at

There are 37 copyright holders with works in Minicon program books who I have not gotten an answer from. I am lacking any sort of contact information for many of these. 3 of these are artists who I only know by their signature -- I have no full name (Dex, TL and S. Jay). 2 others are known to be deceased. Some I have e-mailed and gotten no response. Some I have e-mailed and written a paper letter to and gotten no response. In most cases these are postal addresses dredged out of the depths of the Minicon registration database. I would be surprised if more than half are still good.

Why We Think This Policy Is OK

Of people contacted who have replied, there is a 98.4% success rate at getting permission at the level given above: web-posting with all-rights-reserved copyright.3 (Or 98.8% counting Jay Kay Klein as a half success.)

I listed some details of the answers I got above to show that even when there are complications, this policy above covers them pretty well. For instance, professionals want to make sure we don't republish their professional work without explicit authorization, so we won't do that. A few people want a cut of profits, but that's no trouble, since we aren't planning to make any. The complications that aren't totally covered are:

We think the probability of legal trouble is very very low. Besides the fact that it's unlikely anyone will object in the first place, copyright problems are usually dealt with via a polite e-mail, followed by a formal cease-and-desist letter, followed finally by suing the offender. Since we'd happily comply with the polite e-mail, we'll never let it escalate.

Impact on Minicon Program Books

Other Examples


... non-trivial1
Trivial/non-creative contributions being things such as text explaining where an event is, a department's policies/procedures, and so forth, given that it is just dry information.
... portfolio.2
Such as we have been doing recently with artist guests of honor.
... copyright.3
For the statistically-inclined, this means that if we asked another 100 similar people, we'd expect between 0.4 and 4 negative responses at 90% confidence.
... web.4
This is a change from the previous, 2011, version of this policy, when we were more conservative about this case.
... policy.5
This is a change from our 2011 policy, which was more conservative about the "Upon publication, all rights revert..." sort of clause.